Feminism refers to political, cultural, and economic movements aimed at establishing greater rights, legal protection for women, and or women's liberation. It includes some of the sociological theories and philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference. Nancy Cott defines feminism as the belief in the importance of gender equality, invalidating the idea of gender hierarchy as a socially constructed concept.
Feminism has earned itself a bad reputation, but it never undermined gender differences that exist between males and females. A man can never be as good a mother as a female can. Similarly, a woman can never be as good a father as a male can. While accepting these anatomical and physiological differences between the two genders, feminism seeks for both genders to be equally respected. They are both human and as a species, humans cannot progress without either one of them.
Maggie Humm and Rebecca Walker divide the history of feminism into three waves. The first wave transpired in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, the second occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third extends from the 1990s to the present. In each wave of the movement, though men have taken part in significant responses to feminism, the relationship between men and feminism has been complex. Historically, a number of men have engaged with feminism. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham demanded equal rights for women in the eighteenth century. In 1866, philosopher John Stuart Mill presented a women's petition to the British Parliament and supported an amendment to the 1867 Reform Bill.
An extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical fields such as anthropology, sociology, economics, women's studies, literary criticism, art history, and psychoanalysis is called feminist theory. Feminist theory aims to understand gender inequality and focuses on gender politics, power relations, and sexuality. While providing a critique of these social and political relations, much of feminist theory focuses on the promotion of women's rights and interests. Themes explored in feminist theory include discrimination, stereotyping, objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression, and patriarchy.
Today, feminist theory has manifested in a variety of disciplines such as feminist geography, feminist history, feminist theology, and feminist literary criticism and has changed traditional perspectives on a wide range of areas in human life, from culture to law.
Feminist activists have campaigned for women's legal rights such as rights of contract, property rights, and voting rights while also promoting women's rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, abortion rights, and reproductive rights. They have struggled to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape. On economic matters, feminists have advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay, and against other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women.
During much of its history, feminist movements and theories were led predominantly by middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America. However, at least since Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech to American feminists, women of other races have proposed alternative feminisms. This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the civil rights movement in the United States and the collapse of European colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, parts of Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Since that time, women in former European colonies and the Third World have proposed postcolonial and Third World feminisms.
Postcolonial feminists argue that oppression relating to the colonial experience, particularly racial, class, and ethnic oppression, has marginalized women in postcolonial societies. They challenge the assumption that gender oppression is the primary force of patriarchy. They object to portrayals of women of non-Western societies as passive and voiceless victims and the portrayal of Western women as modern, educated, and empowered.
Today, they struggle to fight gender oppression within their own cultural models of society rather than through those imposed by the Western colonizers. They, thus, react against both universalizing tendencies in Western feminist thought and a lack of attention to gender issues in mainstream postcolonial thought.
Some postcolonial feminists, such as Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Black feminists, such as Angela Davis and Alice Walker, are critical of Western feminism for being ethnocentric. Chandra Talpade Mohanty criticizes Western feminism on the ground that it does not take into account the unique experiences of women from third-world countries or the existence of feminisms indigenous to third-world countries. This discourse is strongly related to African feminism and is also associated with concepts such as black feminism, womanism, Africana womanism, motherism, Stiwanism, negofeminism, chicana feminism, and femalism.
Pro-feminism is the support of feminism without implying that the supporter is a member of the feminist movement. The term is most often used in reference to men who are actively supportive of feminism and of their efforts to bring about gender equality. The activities of pro- feminist men's groups include anti-violence work with boys and young men in schools, offering sexual harassment workshops in workplaces, running community education campaigns, and counseling male perpetrators of violence.
Pro-feminist men also are involved in men's health, activism against pornography including anti-pornography legislation, men's studies, and the development of gender equity curricula in schools. This work is sometimes in collaboration with feminists and women's services, such as domestic violence and rape crisis centers. Some activists of both genders refer to all pro-feminist men as 'pro-feminists' and not as 'feminists'.
There have been positive and negative reactions and responses to feminism, depending on the individual man and the social context of the time.
These responses have varied from pro-feminism to masculism to anti-feminism. In the twenty-first century, new reactions to feminist ideologies have emerged, including a generation of male scholars involved in gender studies and men's rights activists who promote male equality including equal treatment in family, divorce, and antidiscrimination law. Today, academics like Michael Flood, Michael Messner, and Michael Kimmel are involved with men's studies and pro- feminism.
The United Nations Human Development Report 2004 estimated that, when both paid employment and unpaid household tasks are accounted for, on average women work more than men. In rural areas of selected developing countries women performed an average of 20 per cent more work than men, or an additional 102 minutes per day. In the OECD countries surveyed, on average women performed 5 per cent more work than men, or 20 minutes per day. On 3 September 1981.
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as an international bill of rights for women, came into force. While Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga have not ratified CEDAW, several countries have ratified the Convention subject to certain declarations, reservations, and objections.
A number of feminist writers maintain that identifying as a feminist is the strongest stand men can take in the struggle against sexism.
They have argued that men should be allowed, or even be encouraged, to participate in the feminist movement. Other female feminists counter- argue that men cannot be feminists simply because they are not women.
They maintain that men are granted inherent privileges that prevent them from identifying with feminist struggles, thus making it impossible for them to identify with feminists.
Irrespective of what the feminist writers maintain, the feminist movement has effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage, greater access to education, more nearly equitable pay with men, the right to initiate divorce proceedings and 'no fault' divorce, and the right of women to make individual decisions regarding pregnancy (including access to contraceptives and abortion), as well as the right to own property.